Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Become an Artist to be a True Observer

The Mona Lisa.

Image via Wikipedia

I just finished watching a BBC produced DVD on the life of Leonardo da Vinci. If you are not converted yet, you should start believing that Leonardo was, and still is, one of the greatest geniuses ever. His discoveries and theories surpassed others by centuries. These spanned sciences as art, anatomy, medicine, and  mechanics. It is quite fare to say that he was on a mission to learn everything about everything.

How to become a thinker like Leonardo? The following three points form my humble answer:

1. Leonardo did not go to regular teaching or schooling provided during his time. This allowed him to think ‘outside the box’. The lesson here is for us to try and free our minds from the  bounds enforced by thoughts dominating science in our time. An example is to try and think outside the boundaries of evidence based medicine. 

2. Leonardo was an artist, and obviously a good one, before becoming a scientist. Three properties he had as an artist proved to be vital to his scientific discoveries: detailed observations, always trying to push the boundaries of current practices and patience. Spending months and months on one painting definitely needs patience.  There is much evidence in Leonardo’s art the proves that he kept pushing the boundaries: using new painting materials and  the poses of those he drew are two examples.

3. Time. Yes, time. The need for time goes in line with the 10,000 hours humans need to master anything. If you discount painting, Leonardo never worked. He would live on the expense of influential people mainly for the return of him drawing paintings. I would not like to discount his extreme enthusiasm for learning. When he became interested in anatomy, he would spend his day-time on paintings and spend all night dissecting cadavers. Leonardo also, never sought wealth. He turned down offers to draw paintings that would make him more money.

If you agree with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours needed for mastery, the thing Leonardo spent his first 10,000 hours on was observing and painting. Could these two alone pave the road for new geniuses?

You can watch this show on YouTube.

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